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In some communities, illegal yard sale could bring fines, even jail

There are lots of ways to run afoul of the law.

But by holding an illegal yard sale?

Residents in the villages of North Collins and Blasdell must obtain a $2 permit before holding yard sales or face potential fines of up to $250.

They could also wind up in jail for 15 days, said Jan Hutchinson, clerk and treasurer in North Collins.

A survey of 20 municipalities in Erie County indicated a virtual split when it comes to regulations for garage sales or yard sales. Eleven had ordinances that govern such conduct. Nine had no rules.

In the town of West Seneca, code enforcement officers have the authority to issue an appearance ticket to residents who hold "frequent" yard sales because they disrupt the character of the neighborhood, said John Gullo, senior code enforcement officer. First-time offenders can face up to a $350 fine.

But he could recall no one being fined for being a serial holder of yard sales.

Chris Haas of Alden takes away a coffee table he picked up for $5 during a neighborhood-wide yard sale on Windcroft Lane in Lancaster on Saturday, May 6, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Some municipal officials pointed to public safety as the motivating factor for the yard sale rules, citing car-clogged streets and the inability for emergency vehicles to navigate them. Others mentioned the potential  for a two-day yard sale to become a full-time business in a residential zone.

In the town of Lancaster, Clerk Diane M. Terranova requires residents get permits before holding yard sales. Last year, 80 yard sale permits were issued in Lancaster – at no cost.

"We're not charging residents for permits, so it's not a money grab," Terranova said. "It's a safety issue. People were having tag sales and buyers were parking on both sides of the street. We were getting calls from the school district that buses could not get down the street. If buses can't get down the street, then emergency vehicles can't either."

Chapter 49 of the Code of the Town of Lancaster (excluding the villages of Lancaster and Depew) was established in 2008. Chapter 49 requires:

  • An application be submitted to the town clerk 10 days prior to the granting of a yard sale permit.
  • The permits are valid for three consecutive days and must be conspicuously displayed in a window, Terranova said.
  • The number of yard sales shall be limited to two a year, at least 30 days apart.

"In the past we had complaints of people holding a yard sale all summer," Terranova said. "It becomes a nuisance in that particular neighborhood."

"There are no fines for people who do not get permits," Terranova added. "But we'll hear about it and police will pay them a visit and explain their responsibilities. In extreme cases, the sale could be shut down. It's all up to the discretion of the police."

Michael E. Stegmeier, clerk for the village of Lancaster, also requires permits for yard sales, and issues them at no cost.

"Those perpetual situations are probably the biggest concerns. If it becomes a nuisance for the neighborhood, that's when it becomes an issue," he said.

Sardinia Supervisor Beverly Gambino has no regulations on yard sales.

"In fact there are several residents who have a continuous lawn sale all summer long," Gambino said. "They cover their tables with tarps at night or put them inside a barn or garage. I am unaware of any complaints from any of this activity, and I believe that's because in our rural community, it is not much of an issue."

Sardinia – like some other municipalities – sponsors an annual town-wide summer yard sale. Residents are charged a $10 fee to be included in a master map that shows the locations of their sales.

Springville requires permits for yard sales, and provides the first permit for free. Additional permits cost $10 each and are valid for three consecutive days. The goal, according to Mayor William Krebs, is to prevent year-round retail in residential areas.

Signs used to advertise yard sales also are subject to regulation in some towns that prohibit their placement on utility poles or street signs.

Buffalo actually makes signs for its residents, charging $10 for six. The fee also includes an ad on the city's web page. Permits are required if more than three sales are held at the same location by the same person in one year.

No regulations mar the Orchard Park yard sale horizon, reported Supervisor Patrick J. Keem.

"The only thing we have is our sign ordinance," said Keem, "but we typically don't bother people about them. If they don't pick them up after the yard sale, we do."

Back in North Collins, Hutchinson, the clerk, was asked about how strictly the village enforces its yard sale law, which was enacted in 1988.

"No one has ever been fined or jailed for breaking this ordinance," she said.

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